Just x-posted this list to 50bookchallenge. My reading is all over the place this year – but I am proud of myself for reading a few really solid books this year. I’m confessing to the junk-food books – please don’t mock me TOO much for them.
“Between, Georgia”, Joshilyn Jackson
I also thoroughly enjoyed “Florabama Ladies’ Auxiliary & Sewing Circle” by Lois Battle, and this was much in the same vein of Modern Southern Women’s Lit.
“The Last Town On Earth”, Thomas Mullen
I knew Mullen wasn’t from the Northwest when I was reading this – his work lacks the Northwest spirit that David Guterson channels into his books (“Snow Falling On Cedars” being one of my all-time favorites). But it was still a very engaging and frightening look, not only into the 1918 flu pandemic – and the “reverse quarantine” legends of some small towns – but also into the socio-political tensions that the war brought to America.
“Baby Proof”, Emily Giffin
MUCH deeper than the cutesy, yellow-with-booties cover would indicate. Giffin got shafted on that cover, because it makes the book look lighter than it is. It’s chick-lit, but a great discussion on some of the big questions of a thirtysomething woman: love, relationships, children, sacrifices.
“Shopaholic & Baby”, Sophie Kinsella
It’s a Shopaholic book – what else is there to say? I could feel myself getting dumber reading it. The first book or two were charmingly silly. After that, the series got ridiculous. Good for Sophie Kinsella for making the extra cash on the books – but why can’t she be more like a Jane Green and make the books a little less, well, vapid?
“Water for Elephants”, Sara Gruen
This book is fantastic. Read it now. It’s charming and brilliant and captures everything I could possibly imagine about Depression-era train circuses. Gruen put a lot of heart, and a lot of research, into the book, and it is wonderful.
“Fragile Things”, Neil Gaiman
Much more strange and depressing than “Smoke and Mirrors”. Gaiman’s last short story collection had a fairy-tale quality running through it – this one has more of a dark side of humanity to it. Less funny, more thoughtful, more disturbing in non-magical ways. Gaiman without as much whimsy…except I love whimsy.
“The Ladies of Grace Adieu, and Other Stories”, by Susanna Clarke
THIS was more in the fairy-tale vein that I liked so much in some of Gaiman’s work – and it even carried on in a spinoff of one of my favorite books, “Stardust”. I found the stories very original – but a bit disorienting in their unpredictability. The way Clarke describes things not only makes her characters dizzy, but made me dizzy, too. Such is the nature of fairy tales sometimes.
“Seattle: And The Demons Of Ambition, From Boom To Bust In The Number One City Of The Future”, Fred Moody
I am an ex-Seattleite, and I lived there on and off for years – and yeah, this nails it. THIS guy is from the Northwest, and he GETS being from Seattle, and he understands that most people in Seattle really didn’t want America to notice that the city was there. He chronicles the city’s business and music and civic history over the last thirty years, does a brilliant job of tying everything together, and, most importantly, devotes a few pages to Ivar Haglund.
“The Street Lawyer”, John Grisham
It’s Grisham, only non-profit. Quick, engaging, all the stuff you want in a Grisham book. Much fewer plot machinations in this one though – much more of a statement about homelessness than a conspiracy theory that has to be untangled.
“The Golden Spruce: a true story of myth and madness”, John Vaillant
This is an amazingly well researched, well written, and thorough book that covered four hundred years of British Columbian coast history. I expected it just to be the story of the eponymous spruce, a genetic freak that Haida legends were built on. But it was much more than that, as Valliant describes logging, and how that huge industry drove a man to madness, and destroying the magical spruce. Everyone from a forestry-industry area should read this book.
“1491: New Revelations Of The Americas Before Columbus”, Charles Mann
The amount of research and material in this book is phenomenal. It’s as big as, and reminded me of, Jared Diamond’s Collapse. AND it ties together a lot of really fascinating new thought in anthropology. It totally changed the way I look at the fields of archaeology and anthropology as they relate to the Americas, and gave me a very different impression of how developed this world was before the vast majority died in pandemics.
“Playing with Boys” and “Make Him Look Good”, Alisa Valdes-Rodruiguez
I do enjoy A V-Rs books. I started with the “Dirty Girls Social Club”, and suddenly, I had a whole different insight into Hispanic/Latina culture in the United States. I never thought about how rich and varied all the different cultures are that come to the States from the Spanish-speaking countries – Cuba, Mexico, Columbia. Nor did I realize how much I thought of them all as being similar. This is chick-lit that actually made me see Los Angeles differently – which makes it really good.
I was skimming Tamara Draut’s Strapped: Why America’s 20- and 30-Somethings Can’t Get Ahead” at the library on Saturday. Paul and I had gone for a fresh load of books, because we live three blocks from a fairly sizeable L.A. library now, and are the sort of adorable nerd couple that go there on weekends. I was scanning the new releases and was curious: what IS happening to my peers across America?
Turns out, not much good. Maybe in the fly-over states, there’s a mythical place where people are living at similar quality of life levels as their parents. But with the squeeze on the middle class, I bet that’s only because their parents are out of the pages of “Nickel and Dimed”. There was anecdote after anecdote about people my age, in a similar position to me, who are buried in credit cards, mortgages, student loan debt. I’ve been lucky – MY loans were extremely low, and were from the Canadian government. I live in L.A. where there is NO point in a mortgage, as buying is so much more expensive than renting. And I have not fallen prey to the unscrupulous, poorly regulated credit card companies. And even I, until literally a few months ago, lived hand to mouth, breaking even every single month, completely unable to save more than 5% of my salary at best. (I’m supposed to be saving 20% now. I did the classic “if you get a raise, put it in savings” stunt right after I paid for Christmas. And the move, and the redecorating, etc, etc)
I fail to see what it is that is wrong with the system here. Why is it that, in major cities, NONE of us seem really able to get ahead? Seriously. I do really well, IMHO. I don’t make six figures, but I made all the right choices & got a lot of lucky breaks and now, here I am, twenty-eight, no kids or house to pay for, and yet – I’m still not really making much more than I need to live on.
OK, I have it easy, and have NO right to complain. I have my own career, a steady living I fell into a few years ago, where I have doubled my salary in the last three years through dumb luck and hard work. But even with all my luck & my comfy regular paycheck, I just burned through four months of savings in two weeks. $1100 to get Zippy fixed up. $850 for taxes on my freelance work last year. $335 for a parking ticket to the City of Los Angeles for parking in a handicapped spot last year. A run of bad luck, and bam! Back to zero in my savings account.
Obviously, there’s places I could cut & save. Vacations, for example. Especially vacations that involve staying at the W and eating at an extremely high-end restaurant. Magazine subscriptions. DirecTV/TIVO. The few, occasional meals out that we do go for. Throwing an upscale wine and dessert party for our friends. But seriously, that’s a few hundred dollars here or there – and it’s SO MUCH bigger than that. And I LIKE being able to spend money on things like that, because I haven’t broken free of the system enough to let go of material rewards. I don’t spend money eating out for meals very often – I pack lunches – and I don’t go to movies or even drinking at clubs very often, so I think I’m pretty OK with the indulgences I do have.
I guess the point is that its frustrating, trying to save money, and never seeming to be able to. At least I had the $2K to pay for a run of bad luck, too – many of my peers don’t. And even thinking about THAT makes me sad, because I’m at the upper end of the spectrum when it comes to Twenty-To-Thirtysomethings In The Big City. What does everyone else do? Hit the credit cards? Go into debt at 12.9% APR? Take six months to pay off $2K and end up paying a hundred dollars interest on it? Call their parents at the cost of their pride?
It isn’t even that I feel like we got scammed out of the quality of life that our parents had, or that previous generations had. I think the whole system of money, jobs, all of it – I think it’s fucked up. I think the way we’ve regimented ourselves into currency, constantly, is wrong. I think THAT needs to go out the window. Suspiciously like communism, which we’ve proved Westernized humans don’t have the mindset to adapt to right now. How do you squeeze out the middle class though, if there are no financial classes? Making life easier for the middle class would be a great patch – but this is a huge problem – and I think it’s tied into sustainability, consumerism, and so much more than I won’t even go into because my lunch break’s over – and i have to go make that money now.
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